Northern Ireland ministers to discuss cutting the number of Stormont offices from 12 to nine
A plan for slashing Northern Ireland's Government departments is to be in place for just after the next Assembly election, it has emerged.
Stormont ministers are to hold a special Executive meeting this afternoon to discuss proposals to cut the current 12 departments to nine.
They have been asked to give their responses to a plan drawn up by the head of the Civil Service, Dr Malcolm McKibben, and no final decisions are expected.
The initiative is the next phase of the outworking of the Stormont House Agreement hammered out between the five Executive parties - DUP, Sinn Fein, Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Alliance - just before Christmas.
First Minister Peter Robinson has said his party and Alliance also support moves to cut Assembly Members from the current 108 to 90 in a shorter time-frame than the following Assembly election in 2021.
The current departments would remain in place until the next election, after which the new 10-strong Executive, including the First and Deputy First Ministers, would be formed.
Under the blueprint the most affected departments would be the Department of the Environment (DoE), Employment and Learning (DEL), and Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL). If it can be agreed, a new department - Economy and Skills - would amalgamate the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) and some of DEL.
The functions of the DoE would be split between the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) and a new Department of Development and Infrastructure, which would also subsume many of the functions of the present Department for Regional Development, sources have reported.
A further new department - to be called Social Welfare, Communities and Sport - will take over from the current Department for Social Development (DSD), but also take on board most of the functions of DCAL and the remainder of DEL.
The Department of Education is to be renamed the Department of Education and Children, taking over a wide range of children's issues, which are currently dispersed among other departments.
It is also understood the Department of Health will be renamed the Department of Health and Wellbeing.
The Department of Justice, the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister and Department of Finance and Personnel appear to remain unscathed under the proposals to be discussed by the politicians.